FWP Considers Buying 189 Acres of Land on Flathead Lake

By Beacon Staff

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is considering buying nearly 190 acres of farmland and wetlands on the north shore of Flathead Lake and adding the land to its wildlife management area program.

The land eyed for purchase is located roughly 4 1/2 miles from Somers and would be part of the agency’s efforts to protect ground water, surface water and wetlands around Flathead Lake. The property borders the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Flathead Lake Waterfowl Production Area to the south along the shoreline. It also borders the 160-acre North Shore State Park and Wildlife Management Area that FWP acquired in 2008.

Public comment on the proposal is open through Aug. 31. FWP will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Aug. 20 at the Flathead Lake Inn and Suites, formerly the White Oak Hotel, located at the junction of Highways 93 and 82. The meeting will begin with a 30-minute open house followed by a formal public hearing.

Flathead Lake’s north shore is home to a high diversity of bird species. Based on data collected by the American Bird Conservancy and local expert birders, Montana Audubon designated the north shore as an Important Bird Area in 2009. Over 229 species have been recorded for the general area, of which 172 are regulars, according to FWP.

Through the acquisition, FWP believes there is a high potential to restore seasonal or permanent wetlands in poorly drained areas of the proposed North Shore property. This would increase the value of these lands for the thousands of migratory waterfowl and other birds and wildlife that move through or stay in the north shore area, according to FWP.

“This will help improve or maintain the high water quality of Flathead Lake for benefits of aquatic life and fish and wildlife habitat,” FWP Information Officer John Fraley said in a statement. “Other benefits of this project include protecting and managing this land to restore or improve natural riparian/wetland habitats, to continue annual crop production to benefit resident and migratory waterfowl, to improve and maintain habitat for other wildlife, and to provide opportunities for seasonal and compatible public recreation.”

Money for the acquisition would come from funds that the Bonneville Power Administration must set aside to mitigate the effects of its Hungry Horse Dam on the region’s fish.

According to FWP, the landowner has agreed to sell this parcel below the full market value of $1.73 million for roughly $1.6 million. FWP has agreed to accept an existing farm lease on the property through 2015 as part of the acquisition. In exchange for this lease, the lessee would continue to manage weeds, maintain fences, provide food and cover plots for migratory birds, and assist in other minor property maintenance. In the future, and after the restoration plan is complete, FWP would advertise for bids on remaining farmland leases.

If the deal goes through, the 189-acre parcel would be designated as the North Shore Wildlife Management Area. The proposed management plan allows for restoration of riparian and wetlands, upland buffers and forest stands, as well as the continuation of agricultural practices that also provide food/cover for migratory and resident birds.

For more information on the proposed North Shore Wildlife Management Area, visit http://fwp.mt.gov and click on “Public Notices.”

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